Facebook and Self-Governance

Recently I’ve been having a strange and worrying recurring thought. I’m listening to my iPod, in a secret bubble of music, and I suddenly realize how much I’m enjoying a particular song. And how applicable it is to my life, right at this very moment. You’ve probably had that thought too.

Then a strange thing happens. I panic. Because I immediately worry what would happen if other people knew about that song and that moment. What would they say? Would the person I’m thinking about put two and two together? Oh no!
Take a step back and fill in the missing link: how would anybody ever know about that moment?
And then it hits you.
“Share!” implores that little Facebook button. Share your thoughts and feelings with everybody you know. Ergo, fun meaningful song becomes potential judgment by friends.
That’s when I realized that this whole process of sharing everything about my life with my Facebook network has become so ingrained, I no longer feel comfortable doing or feeling anything potentially provocative.
I’d been researching an article on college publications when I came across a shocking mentality from one of my interviewees, a college blog editor. He told me that he had no qualms about publishing other people’s private Facebook pictures.
“There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy on Facebook,” he said.
Really? None at all? Not a smidgen? Then why I am sharing so much information with it?
This idea cropped up in one of my anthropology classes this week as well. We’d been reading Foucault (of course, we’re in college) and the concepts of surveillance and self-governance immediately reminded me of Facebook.
To clarify, self-governance is the most insidious form of social control, where a set of values becomes so established and openly punished that individuals actively prevent themselves from transgressing. Which isn’t great if those values aren’t perfect.
Sure, nobody’s going to punish me for posting an overly emotional song or status update. But I know that they’ll judge me. I know that would judge me, because I’ll admit that I judge other people on the flimsy things. And I’ll laugh, and I’ll talk about the most ridiculous ones to my friends, and throughout I’ll be reminding myself never to make that mistake.
We become our own PR-people, presenting an idealized version of ourselves. We curate our timelines, we select the right things to post, we self-govern.
We live under the threat that future employers will google our names, and catch us in those pivotal but essential moments of adolescence and young adulthood.
I am part of that first generation that has grown up under this strange internet-spotlight. We aren’t celebrated for anything, most of us haven’t done much yet, but you can probably see embarrassing pictures of us if you search hard enough.
So what do we do? We self-govern. We stay in the norms and monitor our profiles, because anything could haunt us forever. We’re also taught Facebook etiquette: how to avoid getting caught on the wrong side of the value system.
Which would be fine if our behavior on Facebook was the only thing that was affected, but unfortunately that’s not true. When we think of this dogma of surveillance, it inevitably seeps into other aspects of our lives.
I hate to say it, because it’s been said, but we are probably one of the most passive generations in recent history. A high proportion of us are drugged-up for make-believe “disorders”, while simultaneously we’re shoveled over-processed foods with zero nutritional value. We’ve been watched by corporations our whole lives, people who study us specifically so that they can sell us stuff. The youth unemployment rate is rising, particularly in the UK, where in a grotesque Saturn-like twist the older generations are reaping benefits of generous pensions and higher salaries. We’re really getting screwed over here!
So I guess Facebook makes sense right now; it’s a perfect boogeyman to keep this generation of potential resisters in line. It’s the modern version of a permanent record.
And the sad thing is, I probably won’t post that song–you’d judge me.
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